Open Call: what you want to know

Yesterday we had an Open Call for our feature film, That White Girl.  We are seeking a special lead actor to carry every frame of this film.  The entire story will flourish based on the performance of this actress.  So, we are on the hunt…

For our Open Call, we did Interviews with actresses.  We interviewed over 150 females for 7+ hours (straight).  When we ran out of time, and the actors kept arriving, we had to start “typing out/in” based on the look and voice and general vibe that we could gather from a brief moment of introduction.

So, out of the sea of faces and interviews and headshots, you may wonder, what inspires us to call back an actor from an Open Call? 

First, you should know that the filmmakers have an idea of what the character looks like in their collective head.  While  it was all being written, researched, and developed there are lots of ideas that have evolved in the filmmakers’ imaginations.  The challenge is that the writer, the director, the producer, the casting director, the investor, the mother of the director… they might all have a different idea of what the character looks like.  So the first challenge is getting everyone to agree, even the mother.  The first phase of any casting process is going to involve everyone getting on the same page of what the character looks like.  A “look” will immediately inspire, or not, the team.  And this is why at an Open Call, and off of picture submissions in the mail or online, a look can immediately narrow down the search.  In my director head I am literally imagining the actor in all scenarios in my film, including low lighting or bright lighting, scenes with other teens, arguments with her mom, love scene with another teen, committing a crime, etc.  For this film, I also need to know that someone truly looks age 17 or 18 in all lighting scenarios, and without makeup.  (We are not doing the Joan Crawford-make-the-actress-look-young lighting on an indie film).  This is the first level of assessment that happens at any Open Call, or really, any audition.Now, after the actor “looks” in the general ballpark, we need to find the right personality for the role.  At an Open Call for a film, the casting team can choose to Interview actors, or have them read a scene from the script.  In this situation, we chose to do Interviews (see the upcoming blog on The Art of the Actor Interview).   For this film the personality of the female lead requires someone who has heart, vulnerability, strength, emotional range, bravado that is likeable, etc.  We have a range of qualities that we are seeking.  Instead of trying to see all of that in a cold read on a single scene in an Open Call scenario, our Casting Directors wisely advised that we do Interview format. This allowed me and the creative team to listen with our hearts and instincts.  We weren’t focusing on whether someone could handle the text or not… not yet.  We were focused on finding the right spirited female for this role and this determines if the actor receives a callback at a later date.

By the end of the day, we lost time, as we always do.  We can’t possibly give every actor equal time.  On this day, we did have to do the Typing – which essentially means that we ask 5 actors to stand in a line at the same time and introduce themselves briefly to us.  While the casting director was filming their looks to view later on camera, we were studying and agreeing who to call back based on look and a vague sense of personality.  So, while those actors did not get Interviewd, some of them are skipping right to a callback with scenes.  And some are not being asked back based on not fitting the visual imagination of the creative team.  This is the best that any casting team can do when they lose time.  Otherwise, we would have to collect only pictures that don’t give us any real inkling of personality.  (Another reason not to have bland headshots, see the Blog on Headshots).  I suggest to actors that you keep a positive welcoming spirit if you are in a Typing line.  I know it feels like a police lineup moment, but know that we are assessing on the look and any intuition that we can pick up on about you.  Remain open in this process.

What should you, the talented actor, be prepared for at an Open Call?  ANYTHING.  Long waits, heat on a summer’s day, not enough time with the casting people, tons of people, cold readings from scripts, and more waiting.  Just remember the folks “on the other side of the table” are going through the same discomforts, but they remain hopeful that the right actor has shown up today.  So, when you come into the room to meet them, here is the quick checklist for any actor:  (in no order)

  1. Be familiar with the project and the people that you will be meeting (google names and subject matter while waiting on lines!)
  2. Look your best
  3. Leave your attitude about the long waiting outside the door
  4. If you can’t wait, be the first one to arrive in the morning
  5. If you can’t wait any longer, you have to go to work or catch a train, be prepared to leave your picture and resume with a note about why you want to be seen for this particular project (give it to the most official looking assistant)
  6. Dress to suggest the role
  7. Remind yourself that every audition is an opportunity to be hired

Sitting with all of these actresses throughout the day brought us closer to understanding our own filmmaker imaginations, and hopefully, closer to the Lead Actor that we are all anxious to find and be inspired to build an entire film around.

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